Food

Chicken nuggets are everywhere but Taco Bell thinks it can do them better

The chain is scheduled to begin a test of all-white-meat, whole muscle chicken nuggets with two new sauces in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Taco Bell Chicken Nuggets
American consumers love chicken, especially with a dipping sauce. |Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell on Thursday will begin testing the disruptive menu item the world has been waiting for.

Chicken nuggets?

Yes, the QSR chain is launching a test of Crispy Chicken Nuggets in Minneapolis, featuring all-white-meat whole-muscle chicken, marinated with jalapeno-spiced buttermilk and coated with a special breading designed to make them uniquely crisp.

With those nuggets will come the option for two new sauces for dipping: a Bell Sauce made with tomatoes, red chilies, garlic and onion; and a Jalapeno Honey Mustard with a sweet-spicy (very mild) kick.

Also in test in Indianapolis, starting Thursday, are new Street Chalupas, filled with shredded chicken or grilled steak, onion, cilantro and Jalapeño Ranch Sauce, stuffed into a double chalupa shell with mozzarella and pepperjack cheese, which give it a cheesy-chewy bite. They come two to an order.

Taco Bell Chalupa

But the nuggets are perhaps the more noteworthy item, if only because it seems an odd move for a brand known for its Mexican-inspired-menu innovation (and uber-passionate fans).

It’s not like crispy chicken is a new idea for Taco Bell.

This is the brand, after all, that in the past has brought us the Naked Chicken Chalupa (fried chicken as taco shell); the Crispy Chicken Chips (fried chicken as tortilla chip); and the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (fried chicken as taco filling).

Each of those items were more likely to inspire social media engagement than a sleepy chicken nugget.

But American consumers, it seems, just love their nugs.

They’re kid friendly—though they are apparently eaten often by adults. They are an affordable to-go snack that’s easy to eat in the car.

Of the Top 500 restaurant chains, nearly 35% of quick-service operators have chicken nuggets on their menu, according to sister brand Technomic’s Ignite menu data.

And the near-ubiquitous item seems to be on the rise.

McDonald’s recently brought back Spicy Chicken McNuggets as an LTO. Bone-in chicken specialist KFC earlier this year launched a hand-breaded, all-white-meat chicken nugget for the first time and sold 100 million of them in the first eight weeks.

Both Wingstop and Wing Zone have been beefing up boneless chicken offerings. And the rapidly growing chicken-finger specialist Raising Cane’s has become a brand beloved by teens, according to the annual survey of teen spending habits by Piper Sandler.

Brett Pluskalowski, a chef on Taco Bell’s Food Innovation Team, said it’s clear chicken overall is much in demand, and the chain’s goal was to elevate the chicken nugget.

The team set out to do chicken nuggets better than anyone else, with a special kind of “crispy.” He noted that Taco Bell’s nuggets beat out Chick-fil-A’s in focus group tests.

Priced at a recommended $3.99 to $4.99, the nuggets can be purchased as a combo meal with Nacho Fries or as a 10-piece deluxe box.

Taco Bell officials hinted that, if rolled out, the nuggets also have the potential to appear as a substitute protein in other innovative ways.

 

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